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Playoffs? Let’s Do the Math

The New Orleans Saints are still in the hunt for the playoffs – but it’s a longshot. Usually, the way that you want to get in is by winning the division crown. While that is still technically possible, it is much more likely that they could get in by winning a wildcard berth but there are still five teams ahead of them in the race.

Currently, the situation looks like this. The NFC East will go to the New York Giants. The NFC West will go to the Arizona Cardinals. The NFC North will go to either the Chicago Bears (hopefully for the Saints) or to the Minnesota Vikings.

However, the NFC South is up for grabs. Both Tampa Bay and Carolina are tied for the lead with 9 and 3 records, although Tampa Bay has only lost one division game: to the New Orleans Saints. Atlanta has an 8 and 5 record with three division losses. The Saints have a 7 and 6 record with three division losses. Tampa Bay is the only team in the division with two division opponents left to play – Carolina and Atlanta. If they lose both games (assuming that all of the NFC South teams are all 10 and 6 or worse), then all will have equal division records as well (3-3).

New Orleans is the 11th best team in the NFC. To get in the playoffs, they will have to be at least the sixth best team and no more than two of their division opponents can have better records (one conference champion and one wildcard). Some of this is in New Orleans’ hands – two of the remaining three games are against teams ahead of them in the standings and all of the teams are in the NFC. The teams ahead of New Orleans are, in order: New York Giants, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Carolina Panthers, Minnesota Vikings, Arizona Cardinals, Dallas Cowboys, Atlanta Falcons, Philadelphia Eagles, Washington Redskins, and the Chicago Bears.

One thing that I thought was pretty remarkable was that in addition to all of the NFC South teams being playoff contenders, so are all of the NFC East teams – and they are all ahead of the Saints.

Let’s start by assuming that the Saints will win their last three games.

The Saints play Chicago this Thursday night in Chicago – not an easy place to play this time of year. That will give them a better record than Chicago if competing for a wildcard spot and hopefully, a better overall record if the Saints win out. However, Chicago has a fairly easy schedule after New Orleans (Green Bay and Houston – neither of which are real contenders). The Vikings go up against Arizona, Atlanta, and the Giants – three tough teams but two of them have little to play for. The bottom line is that one of these teams will have to be eliminated in order to give New Orleans a real chance. At this point, I am pulling for Chicago to lose against us but win their next two games to make the division crown clearer. However, I also really want the Vikings to win the only game where their opponent is actually fighting for something – and that is against Atlanta. If Minnesota loses all three games, it moves us up at least one spot.

Wins at Detroit and Carolina to finish the season will give the Saints a 10 and 6 record with a 3-3 division record and a 7-5 conference record. However, that may not be enough.

One thing that will help the Saints is if the teams already winning their divisions do not take it easy. Root for the New York Giants to continue to win. If the Giants win out, it would mean losses for Dallas, Carolina, and Minnesota. The probability is unlikely that the Giants will win out though, especially since they are likely to rest their starters once they have solidified home field advantage.

The Washington Redskins have the same record as the Saints – they would be eliminated if we win more games (two losses). The best scenario for New Orleans is if those two losses are against Cincinnati and San Francisco (not very likely but we are not in the best position here) and they beat the Eagles.

Philadelphia has a half game lead on us. They play Cleveland, Washington, and Dallas. If they lose against Cleveland and Washington or Washington and Dallas, we will be ahead of them. Pull for them to lose the last two to give the Saints a better chance.

Dallas has a really tough schedule. They play against the Giants, Baltimore, and Philadelphia. They have to lose two of the three to have a worse record or to one of the division opponents to have a worse conference record.

Now, the real tough part – the NFC South. First up is Atlanta. Atlanta plays Tampa Bay, Minnesota, and St. Louis. Assuming that the Saints are 10 and 6, a loss to Tampa Bay puts us in the driver’s seat. Carolina plays Tampa Bay, Denver, the Giants, and New Orleans. If Carolina wins only one of those games, they would be 10 and 6. If they lose to the Saints and Tampa Bay, we would top them with a better division record. If Carolina wins against Tampa Bay and loses the rest, we would be tied with division records and conference records and things get more complicated (it likely would be based on strength of victory and Carolina was the only real blowout loss this season at 30 to 7 – we would have to do the same to them).

Tampa Bay is either a feast or famine scenario. If Tampa Bay wins against Carolina, root for them to win against Atlanta, giving them the division crown. Their remaining games are against San Diego and Oakland, which they are likely to win. At 9 and 3, Tampa Bay could win only one more game without having a better record. In order for New Orleans to win the division, Tampa Bay would have to lose all of their games and we would have to really score on Carolina in the last game of the season.

Therefore, if you want for New Orleans to have a chance at getting into the playoffs, here is what you should hope for – New Orleans to win out, Tampa Bay to win their next two games (beating Carolina), Chicago to win the NFC North, Atlanta to lose to Tampa Bay and the Vikings, the Giants to win against Dallas and Carolina, Washington to lose against Cincinnati and San Francisco but beat Philadelphia, Dallas to lose two games, and Philadelphia to lose two games. Sounds easy, huh?

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